Galway political anoraks will not have failed to notice how Fianna Fáil councillor Ollie Crowe has taken over from his brother, Cllr Michael J, as the ‘Face of the party in the city’, these last three years.
It has been a steady piece of re-positioning that is set to see Ollie become the party’s city candidate for the 2016 General Election when Fianna Fáil will move heaven and earth to capitalise on anti-Government feeling, and snatch back a second seat. FF will not have it all its own way though as a lean and hungry Sinn Féin is also waiting in the wings.
Going on previous form...
The ABFF (Anyone But Fianna Fáil ) mood among the public following the first impact of the recession saw it have a poor local elections in 2009 - except in Galway city where the party retained three seats (albeit through two new candidates - Peter Keane and Ollie Crowe ) and receive a 25 per cent vote share, which was above the national average.
By 2011 anger at FF had turned into near hatred of the party and saw it decimated to 20 seats, just one ahead of a resurgent Sinn Féin. As for Galway West, the party went from two seats to just one for Connemara based TD Éamon Ó Cuív.
Since then party leader Micheál Martin has worked hard to rebuild FF, but opinion polls continually showed it stuck on the mid to low 20s, and the 2014 locals saw it take a State-wide average of just 25 per cent - only one point higher than FG, and resulting in only 32 more councillors - hardly an emphatic comeback.
FF in Galway city, in the weeks leading up to polling day was in bullish form and high on confidence. There was a real feeling in the party - as well as among the other political parties and the commentariat - that it could take four or five seats and that Nicola Deacy particularly was a dead cert.
FF hubris and delusion was exposed though as only the Crowe brothers had a solid electoral performance, while Cllr Keane - the surprise package of 2009 - scraped in at the final Galway City West count without having reached the quota. The remaining three candidates - David Burke, Alan Cheevers, and Ms Deacy, although polling respectably for first timers, were never really in the running once the first count had been announced.
It was left to the Crowe brothers to take a sober and sobering look at why FF had failed to increase its the Galway City Council representation. “We’re still in the sin bin,” Ollie told the Galway Advertiser, while Michael J noted that voters were reluctant to cast votes for establishment parties and were determined to send a message.
Who’s the man?
In the run-up to polling day, it was suggested to Insider that if Cllr Keane could withstand the challenge of the ambitious David Burke, he would have to be seen as the party’s man in the city. A reasonable analysis, but the election results caused a re-think on that score, and focus quickly shifted to Ollie Crowe as the party’s ‘main man’. The reality though it that FF had already been thinking along these lines for quite some time.
After a somewhat lacklustre general election performance in 2011, Mike Crowe’s appetite and bite, not to mention his willingness to get combative and show no fear of controversy, seemed to desert him and his profile dipped considerably. He still had a good 2014 Local Election and remains party whip, but since then the increasing profile of Ollie Crowe has been noticeable and within the last few weeks, Insider has been informed by reliable FF and Labour sources that Ollie will be carrying the banner for FF in the city.
The next election?
While a week is a long time in politics, a year is even longer, and two years longer again. Whether the General Election comes in 2015 or 2016, Galway West will be a different entity to previous elections - a chunk of south Mayo has been added to the constituency and Sinn Féin will seriously challenge for a seat.
As Insider has previously noted, if FF lost all seats but one at the next election, that one seat would be held by Éamon Ó Cuív. Fine Gael currently has two (Brian Walsh and Seán Kyne ) and will hold one of these seats, but which one? The inclusion of south Mayo could benefit Dep Kyne, but he also holds one of the most marginal seats in the State and could be vulnerable to Connemara based SF Sen Trevor Ó Clochartaigh or fellow FG man (and former Galway GAA football All-Ireland winning manager ) John O’Mahoney.
The success of ex-PD candidates across Galway West at the local elections, not to mention the ascent of a couple of sympathetic new councillors like Mike Cubbard and Noel Larkin, means Independent TD Noel Grealish has effectively the bones of a party machine in place and should be returned to the Dáil.
This leaves two seats. Uachtarán na hÉireann Michael D Higgins established that there is a left seat in Galway, but the current incumbent, Labour’s Derek Nolan is possibly more vulnerable than Dep Kyne - at least people give the Moycullen man a hope of holding on. No one believes Dep Nolan will. That seat will be eyed and fought over by Sen Ó Clochartaigh and Independent Cllr Catherine Connolly, which leaves the final seat.
This is set to be a battle between FF, FG, Dep Nolan, and perhaps another Independent, with FF and FG (at present ) the strongest. The challenge for Ollie Crowe now will be to convince voters in Oranmore that he is worth a No 1 and FF voters in Connemara that he is worth Dep Ó Cuív’s transfers, in order for him to see off the opposition - if O’Mahoney runs and SF have a good day this will be a tall order.
Fianna Fáil are “still in the sin bin” as the Bohermore man noted. Will there be sufficient forgiveness by 2015/16 to see Ollie (a passionate rugby man ) tog out for FF and join the scrum of national politics?